9/20/2006

What To Say About "The Wire"? Education Doesn't Win Elections.

I know lots of folks don't get HBO and don't watch the show, but lots of folks, including The Quick and the Ed, Slate, and others are all agog about The Wire and -- incidentally for some -- its depiction of urban education on the west side of Baltimore. (Me, too -- I'm working on a piece for Slate.)

So far, the most telling, and dispiriting moment so far in the season hasn't been the depictions of kids who can't multiply, or whose caregivers don't, the drugs and violence on the street, or even the predictable sight of a completely unprepared teacher getting horrible PD. Instead, it was the depiction of the mayoral debate at the end of the show, in which the two main contenders focus on crime while the charismatic-less third challenger tries haplessly to get a word in edgewise about improving schools. You know he's going to lose the campaign, and that focusing on education rarely seems to win voters -- no matter what they say in polls.

Voters say they care about schools, but politicians know better. They care about their children's school -- about which they're often surprisingly satisfied as long as the school is orderly -- but not so much about schools and kids on the other side of town.

3 Comments:

Blogger Matthew I. Pinzur said...

I think it's a little more complicated than that... lots of politicians talk about education and lots of polititicans get blamed by their constituents for problems with education... but *very* few have anything more than a modicum of authority over it.

Yes, NCLB has given Congress and state legislatures a little more control over things like standards and testing consequences. But I think the vast majority of the issues that concern parents are handled by school boards (or, in some cities, mayors/city councils).

My point? I forgot... oh, right: it's pretty easy to mention education in a campaign, but it's hard for most politicians to actually do anything about it and therefore easy for them to ultimately say they don't have the authority over the system.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Margaret Paynich said...

I like that point matthew... "it's pretty easy to mention education in a campaign, but it's hard for most politicians to actually do anything about it and therefore easy for them to ultimately say they don't have the authority over the system."

I would be interested in doing research on the fact that I think politicians abuse education as a campaign issue BECAUSE they often have little control on it. There may be consequences later, the the "free positive press" from the education bit on the campaign trail is priceless at the time. When I say free positive press I mean that a candidate is hardly likely to have a bad press day if they are touting support for public education.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Scott Emerick said...

Agree that politicians very rarely win or lose elections based on education stances. But I think this can be attributed to the inability of candidates to campaign on issues that actually matter for improving schools and resonate with the public's experience and interests in schools. Voters want to support policymakers who understand and promote effective education reform, but few candidates distinguish themselves on this front. I just posted a strategy at our blog re: how teaching quality reforms present an opportunity for politicians to create a winning political strategy on education, read here:
http://teachingquality.typepad.com/teaching_matters_most/2006/09/how_smart_and_n.html

8:45 AM  

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